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  • Veronica Vaughan

The faces behind your food: Local farmers edition

Produce at Don Victorio's Market (Photo courtesy: Veronica Vaughan)

Local produce growers and sellers in Palm Beach County bring light to the difficulties and victories of being part of a field that can benefit everyone.

According to the Florida Agriculture Overview and Statistics data, “Florida’s 47,400 farms and ranches utilize 9.7 million acres and continue to produce a wide variety of safe and dependable food products.”

Smaller farms with gross sales of less than $250,000 per year make up a large portion of farmland, specifically in Palm Beach County.

Joseph Chammas and his wife, Tawna, spent the past eight years building a diverse farm to support their vegan lifestyle at Gratitude Garden Farm in Loxahatchee, Florida. The farm is growing nearly all common produce items, including their most popular item, the mushroom.

Chammas discovered he had cancer and was told he had nearly six months to live. After making the difficult decision to completely transform his lifestyle from traditional Western medicine, he and his wife fully devoted their time to investing in different self-taught techniques to create a plant-based lifestyle.

“You can grow year round…not the same things, but 12 months out of the year,” Chammas explained.

Chammas attributes a large part of his agricultural success to the ideal warm climate of South Florida. He noted how the recent hurricanes in 2022 caused injuries to the farm, but he was ultimately thankful for the plentiful rain. Chammas explained how he feels lucky he can support his lifestyle in sunny Florida, enjoy the trial and error process that comes with the changing seasons and be aware of his limitations.

“I understand what I can and cannot grow here, and I’m not trying to go outside my parameters,” Chammas said.

Gratitude Garden Farms will soon become an educational center for those looking to learn how to live a healthier, plant-based lifestyle while utilizing the benefits of living somewhere environmentally sufficient for the growth of quality food.

From a seller's perspective, Elsa Del Carpio, owner of Don Victorio’s Market, reveals ongoing flaws with the produce she sells.

Don Victorio’s Market is located on South Dixie highway in West Palm Beach, Florida. Del Carpio moved from Cusco, Peru, in 2000 and eventually acquired enough knowledge to open an organic produce market in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Del Carpio explained how she buys and sells produce from various farms around Loxahatchee and Homestead, Florida. After being in the business for over a few years, she noticed how items such as citruses and herbs have been abnormally growing, raising suspicion amongst her customers.

“Looks ugly, but tastes good,” Del Carpio said. “Everything is because of the weather.”

She believes the changes in produce are due to the shortage of farm workers, delivery drivers and overall protection of farmland.

One of Florida’s staples is the orange fruit, which has been facing several abrasions over the past few years. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Huanglongbing (HLB), also known as citrus greening, is the most serious disease of citrus. The disease is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid (Diaphorina citri) (ACP), which has been present in Florida since 1998.”

This phenomenon has affected Del Carpio as well.

“Prices went up, farmers need to protect the herbs and spend more money covering crops to maintain and protect the heat,” Del Carpio noted.

Del Carpio explained that due to the rising temperatures in Florida, fewer crops can grow. This problem forms a sense of competition among nearby produce farmers and business owners. She later noted how farmland is quickly being consumed by infrastructures and apartment buildings. However, Del Carpio is determined to work hard and remain in West Palm Beach thanks to the ongoing positive feedback she receives from the community.

“We have deliveries every day, fresh produce, that’s why everyone loves us,” Del Carpio adds. “Keep supporting local businesses.”

By Veronica Vaughan

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